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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 08:53 GMT
Profile: Joschka Fischer's three lives
Joschka Fischer
Fischer: Passion for controversial and big ideas
By European affairs analyst, William Horsley

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, of the Green Party, is an exception to the rule in German politics - he is witty, has star quality, and he courts controversy.

Early in 2001, his career faced a crisis over his activities as a militant left-wing activist in the 1970s.

But, as Germany's most popular politician, he saw the crisis off. Public opinion wanted him to stay on as foreign minister and vice-chancellor in the Red-Green coalition government, despite his admission that he beat up a policeman during a street demonstration in 1973.

Born the son of a Hungarian master-butcher in Germany, Joschka Fischer has had three quite different personas in his life.

Taxi-driver

He has been a young political rebel, a "realo" - a member of the "realists" faction of the Greens - and a high-profile foreign minister who faced down the pacifists in his own his own party and sent German airmen to war in Kosovo.

He has always been one to break the rules. He dropped out of school, and at 19 eloped to Gretna Green in Scotland to marry his first wife, who was then a minor.

In Frankfurt, a centre of revolutionary and left-wing causes in the 60s and 70s, he took casual jobs, including that of taxi-driver.

He opposed the Vietnam war, and mixed with the likes of "Danny the Red" - the radical student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit - as well as figures such as Hans-Joachim Klein, a suspected kidnapper and murderer who is now standing trial for his part in the 1975 attack on an OPEC oil ministers meeting in which three people died.

More embarrassment

In 2001 he was forced to apologise for his past as a left-wing militant when a series of pictures were published showing him as a bearded young demonstrator attacking a policeman in the street.

Hans-Joachim Klein on trial in Frankfurt
Hans-Joachim Klein on trial in Frankfurt
In 1983, he became a Green Party member of parliament, and two years later he was the first German Green to take up a government post, as environment minister in Hesse, around Frankfurt.

Chaotic disputes over the Greens' anti-nuclear, anti-business programme made this experiment a disaster.

But Fischer's stature grew as one of the "realos" able to give a tough profile to a party dominated by the flower-waving "fundis", or fundamentalist, rank and file.

His third incarnation, as a maverick at the top table of power politics, came after he had led the Greens to their best-ever result, in the 1998 elections.

His reward was the post of foreign minister.

Once again he stood against the mainstream, by facing down the majority of Green Party members who opposed the participation of German forces in the Kosovo campaign.

Fischer argued that pacifism had to be discarded in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

At one party meeting he was struck on the head by a bag of red paint thrown by an angry party member, but he won the argument. It added to his reputation as a high-class political act.

Transformed by diet

In the mid-1990s, after his third wife left him, Joschka Fischer began a drastic regime of running and dieting, and transformed his physique.

He was badly overweight and a candidate for a heart attack, but in a short time he lost more than 30kg.

When he came into the government, by now married for a fourth time, he changed again, swapping his jeans and gym shoes for smart suits and silk ties.

But he has not lost his passion for controversial big ideas.

He stirred new passions over Europe by proposing the ultimate creation of a true "European government" for a federal Europe, with a much smaller role for the nation states.

That speech put Joschka Fischer in the limelight, where he loves to be.

The one-time taxi driver has become, in his own way, a true celebrity.

See also:

17 Jan 00 | Europe
17 Jul 99 | Americas
24 Dec 97 | Europe
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